Stockholm (NordSIP) – There were mixed emotions on both sides of the argument this week as the European Parliament narrowly passed the Nature Restoration Law (NRL), a key component of the Green Deal promoted by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. On 12 July 2023 the NRL was passed by just 12 votes, paving the way for measures designed to restore and protect 20% of the EU’s land and sea.
The draft law had been the subject of a campaign of opposition coordinated by the European People’s Party (EPP) along with other right-wing political factions including the European Conservatives and Reformists and the far-right Identity and Democracy group. There was also dissent from the agriculture and fisheries lobbies, particularly in the Netherlands, Poland, and Italy, mainly focused on a perceived loss of arable land and increased production costs. The opposing arguments were supplemented by what NRL proponents and environmental organisations termed a disinformation campaign. The EPP was accused of posting a series of unproven claims on social media aimed at stoking fears in the agricultural sector towards the new proposals. Proponents of the NRL organised a counter campaign, mobilising a million signatures in support of the law. 6,000 scientists from EU states and beyond came together in a statement of support of the proposed law and refuting the EPP’s claims. There was also strong support from the business community.
A pyrrhic victory?
Despite the NRL being passed, its detractors may claim a partial victory following this week’s vote. Various concessions have been made to reach a compromise, many of which are deemed by environmental groups to be incompatible with the urgency of the climate and biodiversity crises. Among the concessions was the removal of a proposed article on the restoration of agricultural lands. This was intended to aid carbon sequestration and address biodiversity loss through peatland restoration and other measures. There is also an agreement to delay the implementation of the NRL pending the evaluation of its effects on European food security. The scientific lobby have argued that short-term gains in food security would be seriously jeopardised by the long-term effects of continued environmental degradation.
Environmental NGO’s have welcomed the parliament’s small positive step in passing the NRL, but have expressed strong reservations at the overall outcome. Ioannis Agapakis, Nature Conservation lawyer at ClientEarth said: “Although the European Parliament adopted the NRL today, the law has been ransacked by the vested interests of many of our lawmakers and we have been left with a shell of a law. Today’s vote should have been about securing a pathway to restore our environment for the future survival of people and the planet. Instead, the outcome of the vote means citizens have been left to defend a law that we fear will be profoundly inadequate to tackle the urgent biodiversity and climate crises. Over a million citizens, civil society, businesses and scientists demanded more of their decision-makers – today’s vote shows the European Parliament shied away from meeting those demands.”